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Travel health information for people travelling abroad from the UK

Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS CoV) 

Introduction

Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) is due to infection with a virus, MERS-CoV , discovered in September 2012, in Saudi Arabia.

Organism and Transmission

MERS-CoV is a coronavirus, a related virus caused SARS in 2002.

The way the infection is spread is not yet precisely known, but most infections have occurred after direct contact with dromedary camels or their products or after close contact with a person infected with MERS-CoV in a hospital outbreak or family home.  The infection does not readily pass between humans.

Geographical Distribution

27 countries have reported cases of MERS-CoV since 2012. 85% cases have occurred in Saudi Arabia.

Other countries in the Middle East with confirmed cases include Egypt, Iran, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Oman, Qatar and United Arab Emirates and Yemen.

Countries in Europe, Asia and North America have reported cases, but most of these have been linked to travel to the Middle East.   An outbreak related to hospital transmission occurred in the Republic of Korea in 2015.

The Illness

MERS-CoV infection has an incubation period of 2-14 days.

It presents most frequently with fever and respiratory symptoms but has also presented with kidney failure, diarrhoea and severe fever.

Most Common Symptoms include

  • Fever.
  • Cough.
  • Breathing difficulties.

Treatment

No vaccine or specific treatment is currently available. Treatment is supportive and based on the patient’s clinical condition.

Prevention in Travellers

The risk associated with MERS-CoV to the general UK population remains extremely low. The risk to travellers to the Middle East remains very low.

Travellers to the Middle East or other countries reporting cases (check individual country pages on fitfortravel) are advised to:

  • Avoid close contact with people suffering from respiratory infections.
  • Wash-hands frequently, especially after direct contact with ill people or their environment.
  • Avoid close contact with live farm or wild animals.
  • Avoid contact with camels.
  • Avoidconsumption of raw camel milk/urine, undercooked camel meat or camel products.
  • Adhere to food safety and hygiene rules, such as avoiding undercooked meats, raw fruits and vegetables unless they have been peeled, or unsafe water.
  • Adhere to respiratory hygiene measures if acute respiratory illness develops-  maintain distance, cover coughs and sneezes with disposable tissues or clothing, and wash hands after disposing of tissues or coughing.

Travellers to the Middle East and or other countries reporting cases (check individual country pages on fitfortravel) who develop high fever, cough or severe illness either during travel or after their return should seek medical attention and share their history of travel.

Further Information

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